Since today is America’s birthday, let me begin with a baseball item and ask the rhetorical question:
- What is wrong with the Chicago Cubs this year?
After dominating the National League from start to finish in 2016 and then winning the World Series to break a century-plus championship drought, the Cubs have been sleepwalking through the 2017 season. This team is not one where the core of players has gone into significant career-decline; this is a very young team that figured only to get better year-over-year in 2017. As of July 4th – sort of the unofficial halfway mark in the MLB season – the Cubs are the definition of mediocrity with a record of 41-41. If the playoffs started now, the Cubbies would be at home watching games on TV.
If I had a way to identify the cause of this “World Series hangover” and a way to cure it, I could probably extract a princely sum from the Cubs and their fans for it. Clearly, I do not; but perhaps the manifestation of the “hangover” can be seen in this comparison:
- 2016: Seven Chicago Cubs were on the NL All-Star Team
- 2017: One Chicago Cub is on the NL All-Star Team – – and he was not one of the members of the 2016 team.
Kyle Schwarber is not the cause of the malaise here but seems to represent the most debilitating form of the “World Series hangover”. In the past, Schwarber was a hitting machine; in last year’s playoffs, he shook off the rust accumulated from an entire season in rehab to pound the ball all over the place even though he could not play the field. In 5 playoff games, he hit .412 and drove in 10 runs. His performance at the plate this year has been so dismal that he was sent down to the minors to get back on track. In 2017 with 222 at bats in 64 games, he is hitting .171 and has driven in 22 runs.
The good news for Cubs’ fans is that the NL Central is a model of mediocrity. The Cubs are only 2.5 games out of first place in the division and only 8.5 games separate first place from last place in the NL Central. The Cubs can still make the playoffs and win their division, but it will not be the cakewalk that it was last year.
The Cubbies made another piece of news about a week ago when they released catcher Miguel Montero because of what he said after a game. The Cubs lost to the Nats and the Nats stole 8 bases in that game. Montero griped that pitcher Jake Arietta did not hold runners on and he had no chance to throw any of them out. Replay would seem to confirm Montero’s analysis and Arietta admitted there was a kernel of truth in the comments but those comments are not in line with “proper teammate decorum” and so Montero lost his job. The story has a “happy ending”; Montero was signed a few days after his release by the Toronto Blue Jays; he is still in MLB. However, I do want to draw an analogy here:
- Miguel Montero’s comment had no social or political significance, but he lost his job in MLB – temporarily – because he said what he thought.
- There is a lot of similarity here to the Colin Kaepernick situation in the NFL who lost his job in the NFL – seemingly not so temporary – because he used a symbolic gesture to express what he thought.
Staying with MLB, the average 2017 MLB game takes 3 hours and 8 minutes; that is the longest average game-time ever. Evidently, the addition of the time-saving rule to avoid the four pitches in an intentional walk has not resulted in shortened games. The people who do “advanced analytics” for baseball have determined that the average time between pitches in 2017 is 23.8 seconds and that is the longest interlude in the 10-15 years that people have been measuring that statistic. Let’s do some math here:
- If each team throws 120 pitches in a game, that means there will be 240 pitching interludes.
- Given the average time between pitches that amounts to 95.2 minutes – more than an hour-and-a-half – wherein the pitcher is standing there holding the ball and staring at the catcher.
- That represents about 50% of the time it takes to play the average MLB game of 3 hours and 8 minutes.
If MLB wants to increase the pace of play and cut down game times significantly, they need to stop focusing on the time it takes to walk a batter intentionally and to look at the things that take a lot of time in a game. The pitcher holding the ball is one such thing; the time it takes umpires to complete a review is another such thing. Consider these two items from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:
“Headline at TheKicker.com: ‘Umps go to video replay to see if they’re slowing game down too much.’”
“United Airlines is about to unveil the world’s longest flight, 8,700 miles from L.A. to Singapore — nearly 18 hours.
“To help pass all that air time, the in-flight movie will be replays of three Yankees-Red Sox games.”
Finally, syndicated columnist Norman Chad also had something to say about the length of MLB games in his weekly Couch Slouch column:
“Watching baseball on TV these days is like putting a pot of water on medium heat and waiting for it to boil.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………